NEW YORK — When Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer meet in the U.S. Open final on Sunday, it will be the 42nd meeting between two tennis greats.
The rivalry has been remarkably even, with Federer leading Djokovic 21-20.
Federer and Djokovic have also played a number of memorable matches at the U.S. Open. The duo met in five consecutive matches in New York, with Federer winning the first three and Djokovic winning the most recent two matches. Ahead of Sunday’s final, here’s a look back at Djokovic and Federer’s five-match history at the U.S. Open.
Final, 2007: Federer d. Djokovic 7–6(4), 7–6(2), 6–4
By the 2007 U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic looked like a player who would challenge Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s monopoly over tennis. By August, Djokovic had vaulted up to world No. 3, and in the Canada Masters final, he beat Federer 7–6(2), 2–6, 7–6(2), his first victory over the world’s top-ranked player.
Djokovic defeated No. 15 David Ferrer in the semifinals, while Federer topped No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko to set up the second Grand Slam meeting between Federer and Djokovic. (Federer beat then-No. 14 Djokovic in straight sets in the Australian Open fourth round earlier that year.)
Playing in his first Grand Slam final, Djokovic had seven set points, but Federer won in straight sets to clinch his fourth consecutive U.S. Open title. After the match, Federer said he thought Djokovic played better than the score indicated.
“I think straight sets was a bit brutal for Novak, to be honest,” Federer said. “He deserved better than that. He’s had a fantasticrun, not only this tournament but the entire year.”
Federer also foreshadowed the rivalry the players would develop.
“I told him at the net ‘keep it up,’” Federer said. “We’re going to have many more battles I think.”
Semifinals, 2008: Federer d. Djokovic 6–3, 5–7, 7–5, 6–2
The following year saw Djokovic win his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open after beating Federer in the semifinals. Djokovic also reached the semifinals of the French Open. At the 2008 U.S. Open, he appeared ready to offer a stronger challenge than the previous year to Federer, who had recently lost his No. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal.
With a win, Djokovic would take over the world No. 2 ranking from Federer. Instead, Federer reasserted himself as the player to beat in New York, defeating Djokovic in four sets.
Federer was nearly flawless in the first set, only recording three unforced errors. After Djokovic won a close second set, Federer regained momentum and sealed a fifth consecutive trip to the U.S. Open final.
Federer claimed his fifth straight U.S. Open title with a straight sets victory over No. 6 Andy Murray, who beat Nadal in the semifinal.
Semifinals, 2009: Federer d. Djokovic 7–6(3), 7–5, 7–5
After his breakthrough 2008 season, Djokovic’s career stalled a bit in 2009: He exited the Australian Open and Wimbledon in the quarterfinals, and he lost in the third round of the French Open. Djokovic was the No. 4 seed at the U.S. Open, behind Federer, Murray and Nadal.
Djokovic reached his first Grand Slam semifinals of the year by beating No. 10 Francisco Verdasco in a four-set quarterfinal match.
For the third straight year, Djokovic would play Federer in New York. And for the third straight year, Federer ended Djokovic’s U.S. Open.
Federer, again ranked No. 1 and looking for his sixth U.S. Open title, defeated Djokovic 7–6(3), 7–5, 7–5. Federer’s performance was nearly flawless as he won his 40th straight match in Flushing.
Federer would actually go on to lose the final to Juan Martin del Potro, who upset Rafael Nadal in the other semifinal.
In his semifinal against Djokovic, Federer also hit what he called the “greatest shot I ever hit in my life” to set up match point.
Semifinals, 2010: Djokovic d. Federer 5–7, 6–1, 5–7, 6–2, 7–5
Entering the 2010 U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic hadn’t reached a Grand Slam final since winning the Australian Open in 2008. He made the Wimbledon semifinals earlier that summer, falling to Tomas Berdych, and he looked primed to make another run in Flushing. But for the fourth straight year, Djokovic would have to go through Roger Federer.
Federer had won 45 of his last 46 U.S. Open matches when he took the court against Djokovic in the 2010 semifinals. But in an epic five-set match, No. 3 Djokovic finally topped No. 2 Federer in Flushing, prompting The Guardian to declare that Federer’s decline is “turning from gradual to terminal.”
The victory was a major breakthrough for Djokovic. He had beaten Federer before, but only once in a Grand Slam. And finally he had overcome his nemesis in New York in spectacular fashion, saving two match points.
"It's hard to describe my feelings right now," Djokovic said. "Ten minutes ago I was a point from losing this match and I managed to come back. I was just closing my eyes and hitting my forehand as hard as I can.”
Djokovic advanced to the final for the first time since 2007, ultimately falling to Nadal in four sets.
Semifinals, 2011: Djokovic d. Federer 6–7(7), 4–6, 6–3, 6–2, 7–5
In 2011, for the first time, Djokovic entered a match against Federer at the U.S. Open as the favorite. Djokovic’s game reached new heights in 2011, his best year on tour: He won the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and he entered the U.S. Open as the World No. 1 and a favorite to win his third Grand Slam of the year.
But early on, it seemed No. 3 Federer had other ideas. Federer offered a vintage performance the first two sets, winning a first-set tiebreaker 9–7 and claiming the second set 6–4. But Djokovic was relentless, winning the next two sets 6–3, 6–2 to set up a decider. And this time, it was Djokovic hitting an all-time great shot in a big moment.
With Federer serving up 5-3 in the fifth set, Djokovic hit one of the best cross-court forehands you’ll ever see.
Djokovic’s incredible shot saved the match and propelled him to a 7–5 fifth-set victory.
“To lose against someone like that, it's very disappointing, because you feel like he was mentally out of it already,” Federer said. “Just gets the lucky shot at the end, and off you go."
Djokovic beat Nadal in four sets in the final to claim his first U.S. Open title.